Shrink's Views

ramblings of an unknown psychiatrist

Posts Tagged ‘caste’

Rights and Love: a story

Posted by Dheeraj Kattula on September 7, 2010

He was a tall man. Dark and young, his name was James. He came for a full cup Chai* five years ago. He never stopped coming. To him, Chai was like petrol. It kept his engine running. He made friends easily. He became friends with Rafique on the very first day. Rafique was here to buy his bundle of beedis. The minute James realized that Rafique has just discontinued studies; he spent an hour with him to get him back to school. He failed. Of course! Who can convince a thug in the making. I have been hearing Rafique’s mother Salma begging him to study properly for the past 10 years now. It was of no avail. Rafique played the fool throughout his school life. He was no different from most of the guys in Dharavi. Honestly, at his age I was like that too. I left my home in Allepy when I was younger than Rafique. My original name is Abdullah. People now call me Nair. When I came to Mumbai, I wanted to be a hero, a star.  Fate had its way. I became a chaiwala*. I work hard and earn my roti*. That is a decent life. Isn’t it? At least I did not do crime.

Even though Rafique did not take advice, he realized that James was his well wisher. He became his friend and partner in his work. James was like a student who was interested in finding out our problems. He wanted to know about our lives. He wanted to find how we decided what was right and what was wrong. He wanted to know what we did when we perceived injustice. Rafique helped him meet up people in the slum. James came twice a week and did his job. He never missed his full cup special chai in my shop.

In about a year, James started educating us about our rights. He told us about how the real system ought to work. We knew how it worked. The constable on beat was the symbol of all authority to us. Give him a free cup of chai, he would not bother you for the day. The other symbol of power we know is the neta*. His ilk come here before the elections and would never show up again. The bigger guys here keep in touch with the netas. James taught us that these fellows are there to serve us and not get served by us. He also told us about the court system. In fact, that year Police picked Zuber and locked him up. They had suspected him in some bomb-blast case. We knew Zuber as a hard working tailor. He was cool and liberal. He could have no such links. James came to our rescue. It was then that we came to know that he was a lawyer. It seems he had studied in one of the best law colleges in India. I heard it is in Banglore. To us he was like God. Zuber was back. We learnt we could fight.

He fought few other court cases for our slum people. One was a divorce of Janaki and Kadam. Kadam’s drinking was routine. He beat his Janaki black and blue. One night she fell on a doorpost and bled from her scalp. It required 4 stitches to control that bleeding. Next weekday was the day James usually came to our slum. He spoke to Janaki and other neighbors and reported to the police. Police laughed at the issue. They said domestic fights between husband and wife are normal and they should be sorted at home and not police station. With James around they anyway had to register the case. James tried counseling Kadam. I would not have even tried. Some people won’t change. Atrocities on Janaki increased. Janaki decided to leave Kadam. Where would she go in Mumbai? How would she feed herself and her little five year old son Babul? She was concerned as Babul too was getting beaten regularly. She was also afraid that he could become like his father.

James fought for her and got her a divorce and also the custody of the child. Guys like Rafique too were not very happy with the divorce thing happening. Why? Aren’t other women adjusting with alcoholic men? Aren’t other women tolerating few beatings received from their husbands? James reasoned that we all have basic rights common to all mankind. One such thing is a right to life, liberty and security. He said our liberty should end one foot away from his neighbor. Here we had Kadam always violating his wife’s right to security and exercising his pseudo-liberty. He also felt Janaki could leave her husband exercising her right to liberty. I can very well understand that. Marriage should be based on mutual continual nurturing relationship. I was sort of convinced that she had a right to break the marriage. James also found Janaki a house maid’s job in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar, which is not too far from Dharavi. Kadam has died two years ago in a train traffic accident. Obviously, he should. He was totally drunk and was crossing the railway tracks. I wonder how he had survived 40 years on those tracks.

During last year’s elections most of our area’s people had gone to election campaign programs for money. There was very little business. I could have some personal time with James. I asked him about how he spent rest of the time. He said that he visited slums in Thane and Pune on a regular basis. He was doing the same thing that he has been doing to us, providing legal aid. I asked him how he managed to live. He smiled and said that few friends support him. Many of them were from a  network of Lawyers. There were others who also contributed. A dozen of them gave about Rs 1000/- each per month. That probably washed their conscience of the guilt of not doing anything for the poor. Many of those lawyers had monthly income running into Lakhs*. His wife Agnes was a teacher in a school and she earned another Rs 5000/-. They managed their livelihood in Mumbai with that money. It was difficult to imagine the kind of place that he was staying. He probably was not too better off than us.

Last year, he started coming less frequently. I was busy with pregnancy of my wife. I did not notice that I did not see him for six months. He came two weeks ago. He looked tired and worn out. His head was low as he walked past my shop.  I shouted for him, “ Saab. Chai?”  He pulled himself to the bench in my shop and sat down. I gave him his usual -special full cup Chai. He looked at me as he sipped and smiled. He looked older and mature. His dynamic force was gone. He was sober but looked to be in control. He finished his cup and went to meet others in the slum. I got busy with my work.

That evening I met Rafique. I told him that James had come that morning. I also shared my observations and expressed my wonder at the change. Rafique smiled and said, “You will never believe what he has gone through. He appears different, but this is what he really was- all the time that we saw him.” “Why? What happened? Tell me what you know”, I asked knowing very well that Rafique being close to James would know more.

Rafique narrated this story, “ Agnes, the wife of  James Sir had been suspecting him of having an affair with someone. She put strictures on where he could go, when he would be back, whom he would talk to and so on. She also felt that he was trying to kill her. Six months ago she stabbed James in his stomach with a knife. James was lucky; the knife pierced his bowels but spared his blood vessels. His neighbors heard the shriek and rescued him. They took him to Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General, Hopital in Sion. They did an operation and saved him. In the meantime his wife Agnes was arrested for attempted murder.”

“Oh! My God. It should be tough on James to go through all this”, I asked “What happened next?” Rafique said, “I am still shocked at what James has done. After his discharge, he fought for release of Agnes and won the case. He then got her treated in a psychiatric facility. They gave her shock treatment and medicines.” Rafique added, “She had not responded well to treatment. She is now on the best medicine in the world for her problem. James Sir takes her for blood tests every week. She still has not improved. She is suspicious of him even now. James Sir still lives with her, though he had to change the locality. The locals requested him to vacate. Our great lawyer chose not to fight.” I felt numbed. I could not say anything. Rafique had his cup of chai and left.

I could not sleep well that night. How can James live with his wife after what she did to him? How can he continue to be with her when she still poses a threat on his life? How can he share home with such a dangerous woman? Why can’t he divorce her and start a new life? He has helped so many people start afresh.

When he came today, I asked him, “Saab, Can I ask you something personal?” He agreed with his usual smile. “Saab, I heard what has been happening in your life from Rafique. I feel very bad about it. I want to know why you want to continue living with a person who is suspicious of you and has tried to even murder you? Can’t you choose a life of liberty that you want us to have? Why…?”

James then said, “Nair, we all have rights. Don’t you realize, if we all had our rights then nothing will be left. We all give up our rights for those we love. Don’t we? You have every right to eat from what you earn. Would you spend it eating Chicken Biryani alone or would you spend money to eat normal food with others in family? I have a right to liberty. I can divorce her as she would not allow me to be close with her, but I also have a duty to care for her. I have made a promise to be together in health and in disease, in happiness and in suffering. I will keep my promise even if it means to give up some of my freedom.

“But…You fight for our freedom”, I asked. He said, “Yes, I do fight for freedom and so many other rights. Many of our friends are unaware of their rights. If they are aware they would like to claim them. I help in raising awareness and helping fight to claim it. If someone does not want to claim a right for a different purpose, it is absolutely acceptable. It would be nice if that purpose is rational. Do you remember, last year Shinde joined BSc in Maths though he got a quota seat in Engineering. It is rare for someone to get to college level from Dharavi. Everyone scolded him. I knew he had a higher agenda. He wants to prove himself. A person who can run does not need crutches. Shinde will come up in life. He will live with self respect. Watch him. Anyway coming back to the point, rights give people a chance to make their life beautiful. Giving up your rights too can make life beautiful. In the case of me and Agnes, it is not yet beautiful. I agree I do not know what can happen to me, but that is alright. In a grand plan of people caring for their family, it is already beautiful.”

As I saw him walk away, I wondered James did give up much to be with us and has made life more beautiful for us. I found a new definition of love: That which makes the subject give up his/her rights to make life more beautiful for the object of his love.


*Chaiwala- One who deals with Tea.

*Roti- Pancake made from wheat. Contextual translation- bread.

*Neta– Leader, usually political.

*Lakh- 100,000.

*Saab– Sir

PS:( added on 25th September 2010) A sequel to this story “Love: Feeling, Reason and Choice” can be found here.


Posted in distress, drug therapy, education, emotion, ethics, fiction, gender, indian society, law, love, marriage, psychiatry, schizophrenia, stigma, women's issues | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments »

Being a Woman, Leper and a Brahmin

Posted by Dheeraj Kattula on January 9, 2010

Apologies: To all the pundits on ethics of confidentiality. This post might not be acceptable to the people that I have written about. Insistently, I write this. Consider the fact that no bad news is acceptable to the ones who make that news, be it rapists or racists. This story is real. Read it if you want to or chuck it if you don’t care. Stories that must to be told should be told.

Note: I respect confidentiality. I am a doctor, not a journalist or policeman. Therefore there is no need for me to tell the real names. The name I have used is fictitious. Also, the persons in the story are aware of my feelings towards their attitude. I hope to understand them and change their attitude for the better in my future interactions. I continue to treat this family.

Post: Being a Woman, Leper and a Brahmin

Her name is Madhusmitha Panda. She is about 50 years old. She is unmarried. Of course, who would marry her, for she had Leprosy. She had the stigmata of having had leprosy. She walked with a limp. Her toes were shrunk and her foot was deformed.

Her father retired from Government Service and receives a pension. He is about 80 years now. He is hard of hearing, but quite independent. Her mother was in her 70s and she had uncontrolled diabetes. She had no other siblings. She had few cousins, who were all married and well settled economically. The women who were married to her cousins do not take good care of them. So the three live independently in a small house. They have no other social supports.

She was an old patient of our institution. She had received MDT (multidrug therapy) and was cured of Leprosy few years ago. Our nurses have treated her of a foot ulcer a couple of months ago. She used to come on an out patient basis for dressing of the ulcer in her foot.It had healed well.

I saw her few weeks ago with a bad ulcer in her foot. Considering her situations, I felt that it would be difficult for her to come all the way from her home on a regular basis. Remember that travel costs money. I advised her to stay in Leprosy Home, a place where she could get free accommodation, food and ulcer care.Her father was not interested .He said that he would bring her regularly for dressings.

Madhusmitha came daily for dressings. Her father brought her everyday in an auto rickshaw. Over few days we realized that the ulcer is not getting better. At the same time she is developing changes in her sole indicating that there is possibility of new ulcer developing. This was because she was not giving adequate rest to her foot. Being the more able of the three, she had to do all the house hold work. Her dressings were not maintained as they had to be. We pressed them for an admission. It can be assumed that once a patient gets admitted, he/she could get some rest.

We also had asked her father to buy her MCR (Micro Cellular Rubber) footwear from the shoe maker in Leprosy Home. We told him of the costs etc.He wanted to find out, if it was available elsewhere. Even after a while, her foot did not improve. We realized he has not purchased the footwear for her. We felt irritated. He was not even willing to go to the Leprosy Home! We knew we could help her if she were admitted. When we insisted on admission, he blurted out, “How can I leave my daughter? What if someone does something?” . The nurses told me that he did not trust his own daughter. That is why he accompanied her everyday, even into the dressing room.

We had a word with her mother. We thought she could think more rationally. It made sense to admit her daughter to get treatment for free! She asked, “Do good people stay there?” I began to reason with her that most people living there are nice people. They too were suffering like her daughter. I also told her that there will be people to take care of her daughter. As I was explaining this, our nurse told me, “Sir, the meaning of her ‘good people’ is not nice people as you imagine. She refers to people of higher caste. She is a Brahmin. So, she does not want her daughter to live in a Home with lower caste people.”

I was shocked. I thought “What? Mother of a Leprosy patient was discriminating other oppressed people!!!”.Madhusmitha is not suffering with Leprosy problems alone. She was suffering for being a woman. She was suffering for being a Brahmin. Her parents think that they are being helpful and protective but they are the biggest stumbling blocks to her care. They being old cannot care for themselves. They want Madhusmitha to do all the household work. After all, she was born a woman. It is her responsibility to do the household chores. Adequate rest is therefore not possible. On the top of it, they deny her benefits of admission into a Home because of being Brahmins. Sadly again, because of associated stigma they do not want to go to the Home to buy MCR footwear.

I asked her mother, “Mousi, you said you have problems with wives of your nephews. Isn’t it?” She nodded with an expression anticipating sympathy. “Are they not Brahmins like you?” I asked. She agreed though her expression changed. I asked her, “Tell me who is better? The wives of your nephews, who being high caste Brahmins do not care for you or the tribal people and health workers in the Home, who would dress your daughter’s ulcers and take care of her, even in your absence?” There was a pause. She answered in a low tone, “Tribals”.I am glad that she could see the obvious truth.

Frankly, I felt that if that old couple die then Madhusmitha might get a better deal. Till then she would remain a Brahmin woman, who would do all the household chores, limping with ulcerated feet. She should have been born into a Tribe. She would have had a better deal.

I still cannot understand how they could discriminate against persons from tribal background when they themselves get discriminated for having leprosy. I wonder how they try to hide the identity of having had leprosy, but flaunt the identity of high caste origin.

Posted in distress, indian society, leprosy, medicine, stigma, women's issues | Tagged: , , , , , , | 13 Comments »